‘Gunsmoke’: Michael Landon’s Best Friend Victor French Held Record for Most Guest Appearances on the Show

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Gunsmoke was on the air for two decades. So the beloved western relied on a bevy of guest stars. Victor French was there alongside Marshal Matt Dillon in Dodge City for 23 shows.

You may mostly remember Victor French as Isaiah Edwards from Little House on the Prairie. In the Little House books, Edwards was described as the “wildcat from Tennessee.” In real life, Victor French was the best friend of Michael Landon, who starred as Charles Ingalls.

And while Landon came to fame in Bonanza, Victor French honed his skills on Gunsmoke. He usually portrayed some version of a criminal, whether said criminal was hapless or evil.

Among the 23 Gunsmoke appearances, French also appeared twice with his dad, Ted French, who was a stuntman. They appeared together in Prime of Life and in The Quick and the Dead.

Victor French Appeared As Evil Sheriff in a Gunsmoke Episode

In 1974, in one of Victor French’s final Gunsmoke episodes, he portrayed a lawman gone horribly wrong. He was Sheriff Bo Harker, a friend of Marshal Matt Dillon. But when Dillon comes to Harker’s town, he finds out that Harker has turned into a tyrant. He threw people in jail for the smallest of crimes. And he killed anyone who tried to stand up to him. That included his own deputy. But because this was Gunsmoke, a show where the good guys won, Dillon rid the town of Harker.

Another well-liked Gunsmoke episode was called Waco. French played Waco Thompson, who was wanted for robbery. Matt Dillon was bringing Thompson back to Dodge City when the two found a Native American woman who was about to have a baby. Dillon and Thompson help the woman, but they also needed to steer clear of four other criminals who were enemies of Thompson.

French Also Was in Show’s Finale

And Victor French appeared in the final Gunsmoke episode. It was called The Sharecroppers. The episode never was intended to be a series finale, especially for a show that had lasted through parts of three decades. But CBS decided to end the show. So the last episode was about Festus shooting a guy in the leg. He brought the main back to his farm and then had to deal with his family. Victor French was one of the family members.

The Gunsmoke episode marked the last time for Ken Curtis to appear as Festus. He declined to do any of the reunions.

After 1975, Victor French was mostly by Michael Landon’s side in Little House on the Prairie, then Highway to Heaven.

French died in 1989. Nine years later, he was inducted to the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Because when you’re in Gunsmoke that many times, you’re definitely worthy of a spot.

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